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Hop Presshops Hop Press Issue 51 front cover

Issue 51 – May 2002

 

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Contents

 

EDITORIAL Hop Press index

This edition can give at least one heartfelt cheer for the Government but with a couple of pretty strong moans as well.

The cheer of course is for the Budget. The Campaign for Real Ale has been lobbying Parliament, together with SIBA the Small Independent Brewers Association, for well over a decade with a view to introducing a continental style sliding scale of duty relief for small brewers. Finally it has come to pass. And it looks to be a reasonably generous scheme.

The article on page 23 describes the new rules in detail. Sufficient to say here that it gives back to a small brewer something like £120,000 or half of the excise duty, whichever is the smaller. Enough to make a real difference to some of the small operators who are working on half a shoestring! I would expect to see a small outburst of one-off ales called things like Golden Thanks Gordon, Gordon Brown's Ale, Best Budget Bitter or perhaps Relief at Last.

Several other small items in the Budget will interest pub users. Alcopops, the Metz/Breezer/WKD world, have attracted a fairly big hike in duty - about 11p per bottle. After the large mark-ups that these cheap-to-make drinks normally attract, that will add 30/40p to the bar price. The Government's background statement to the Budget remarks that despite being introduced at a specially low duty rate the price of these drinks has risen more than other types, a polite way of drawing attention to profiteering. The new tax rate will be in line with that for spirits (pro rated to the alcohol percentage).

There is a small reduction in duty on cider and perry - about ½p per pint. One might expect this to give a 1p or 2p reduction at the bar but I will not hold my breath...

Now for the two moans. The first, which is another matter for which we have campaigned and lobbied long and hard, is described in an article on page 9. It is our right to be served with what we ask for, namely a pint of beer. Department of Trade and Industry's Trade Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, seems hell-bent on producing a ludicrous law that will define a pint of beer as 95% of itself! Lewis Carroll would have appreciated it.

We all know (although no one will pass on written proof) that area managers from the big brewers and pub companies expect their pub landlords to get 75 or 76 paid-for pints out of each 72 pint firkin - a loaves and fishes performance for any honest man. These companies know that when they advise that "anyone can ask for a top up, which will always be given with good grace" most customers will be too diffident to ask or in a crowded Friday night bar too pressed to be able to ask.

Ms Hewitt seems to have been persuaded by the industry lobby coming from the British Beer and Pub Association (the one-time Brewers' Society) that serving full pints would add more than 10p to every pint - what other admission of the need for this law could be wanted!?

The DTI are conducting 'consultations' until July so I would urge all readers to write in with their support for a proper measures law - see the address etc. on page 9.

Now to our second gripe with this Government, their attitude to the 'Beer Orders' - imperfect legislation maybe, inherited from previous administration, certainly, but still doing some useful things. Again the Department of Trade and Industry, in the shape this time of Consumer Affairs Minister Melanie Johnston, are the villains. In an out-of-the blue statement to the House Ms Johnson said recently that the DTI were proposing to revoke the 1990 Beer Orders in their entirety.

The Orders resulted from the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's investigation of the brewing industry in 1989 and were a heavily watered-down set of the Commission's recommendations (as a result of the big brewers putting the arm on Lord Young). The main provisions were to limit brewers' tied estates to no more than 2000 and to allow tenants of national brewers to stock a guest real ale of their choice. With remarkable speed the brewers divested themselves of their pubs into pub chain companies (not considered in the Beer Orders) and so got round both of these clauses which are now dead letters. Presumably this is why Ms Johnson said to the Commons: "The Beer Orders have served their purpose, it is time to remove them from the Statute Book."

Not so. Although these main provisions no longer apply there are a number of minor clauses that are still having a very important influence on the industry, for example:

  • Prevention of brewers selling pubs with a de-licensing covenant (crucial in the south-east with its distorted property prices).
  • Regulation of loan tie agreements.
  • Obliging brewers to publish wholesale price agreements.
  • Preventing brewers from refusing to supply beer without valid reasons.

The shock announcement went completely against the advice of the Office of Fair Trading which is (was?) itself due to revue the Beer Orders in 2005. It also ignored the fact that the Orders were reviewed only in 2000 when the main clauses were already more or less moribund, yet it was considered worthwhile keeping the rest. What has changed since then?

The Statutory Orders that are needed to scrap the Beer Orders have not yet been laid before Parliament so there is still time to protest. Letters to:

Ms Melanie Johnson
Consumer Affairs Minister
DTI HQ
1 Victoria Street
London
SW1H 0ET

Finally, another Greene King press release drops on the mat. Apparently £½m is to be spent 'repositioning' the poor old cleric from Abbot Ale. Adverts will feature "a young woman lying in bed, gripping the sheets... with the slogan 'some things get better given longer.'" This nonsense is the idea of brands manager Rooney Anand, who must be a closet anagrammatist.

 

CAN THIS BE A BEER!? Hop Press index

Martin Jarošek, (see Small Beers below)

The Czechs are conservative beer drinkers. The average citizen of this central European country is accustomed to consume his/her pint of pale lager or pilsner - partly as this beer type was invented in this region - and is usually not very open minded towards any other taste experience. Sticking to well-tried brands, once deservedly popular, but now constantly declining in quality, a Czech thirst-quencher makes a sour face if offered ale or bitter and will vehemently complain at the temperature of British pub beers.

It is not easy being a 'white crow' amongst conservative drinkers, trying to educate colleagues that 'beer' is a wide-ranging term and that lager is not the only malt beverage in the world!

I respect the German Reinheitsgebot purity laws, but recently I've had many thoughts about the infinite combinations and variations that can be made to beer, the world's greatest drinking invention.

As a sometime purist I am startled to see Polish and even Slovak people pouring fruit syrups into their beers and to find them making a remedy against the cold by boiling "dark beer with honey and egg yolks." Swiss beer lovers mix their Cardinal, Haldengut or Hürlimann with lemon juice and in the Mechlenburg region of northern Germany, a strange concoction of beer and sparkling wine is popular.

Of course, many of these strange varieties come ready made in Belgium. The lambic and gueuze beers that rely on the odd wild yeast cell to waft in and the kriek and framboise beers that add fruit directly to the fermenter. In Corsica they even brew a beer flavoured with chestnuts. In Alaska some micro-breweries are using naturally occurring resources - wild blueberries and strawberries. One has even resurrected a recipe, supposedly from Captain Cook's 1776 expedition, for a 'spruce tip ale' made from pine needles.

The most bizarre brewing probably belongs to Asia. Well-known to locals throughout south-east Asia, 'toddy,' the brew of palm juice and resin, is hard to actually find on sale. After failing to find it in India, the Seychelles and Malaysia, I eventually bought one bottle from a Bali taxi driver (there it is called 'tuak'). It was disgusting! Iron will was needed to empty the plastic bottle of its nauseating contents.

On a visit to Nepal I came across a hazy fermented millet drink, 'roxy.' Diluting rye whiskey to 5% makes a perfect copy. Tibet provided the strangest beer I've ever sampled, 'tumba.' The Tibetan served me a green plastic jug of pink, fermented millet and then covered it with warm water, the liquid is sucked out with a metal tube; hot water refills all come in the price. Even we Czechs now have fancy mixes, the colourful 'magic eye' is made by throwing a shot of chartreuse, glass included, into your glass (of pilsner).

 

THE OAK, AT BANK Hop Press index

Built in the late eighteenth century as a cider house, the Oak Inn was one of a number of hostelries serving the coach trade on the Southampton to Ringwood road. Additionally, the Oak would have served the hosts of manual workers then involved in the New Forest's economy. Now lying a few hundred yards off of the modern A35, the Oak is in the idyllic hamlet of Bank, a mile south-west of Lyndhurst, 'capital' of the New Forest. It is accessible to walkers, cyclists and riders from the myriad of tracks and paths that criss-cross the area. As the Oak faces onto open forest, ponies graze around it and at twilight diners are often delighted to glimpse red and fallow deer appearing out of the shadows.

Today the Oak is a modern pub but sympathetically refurbished to retain much of its eighteenth century ambience. Low ceilings, Georgian paned bay windows and an antique wood interior (pine, not oak... invite you in after a forest walk or ride. In the evenings candles and oil lamps create atmosphere in the restaurant and in winter the wood burning stove adds the warmth. The floors of the pub are a rare Australian hardwood but with good green credentials since it was saved after a hundred years of use in the officers mess at Portsmouth, it is forgiving to walkers and their dogs.

Decoratively the oak is perhaps an Old Curiosity Shop of memories of a lost British Empire. Brass Benares table tops decorate the ceilings, bottles of ales from long-lost breweries line window ledges and Victorian photographs and memorabilia from barely remembered wars adorn the walls. There are no televisions, games machines or obtrusive music to disturb the enjoyment of a pint.

Pointing you to an enjoyable pint is, of course, what this article is all about. The Oak is that rarity, a genuine free house, the present owner, Tom Finlay, bought it in August last year. Four cask-conditioned ales are available throughout the year with a fifth being offered in summer. In addition there is an annual beer festival (this year it will be toward the end of July or the start of August). Three beers are almost always on, local favourite Ringwood Best (3.8%), national brand Draught Bass (4.4%) and from Holdens in the Black Country their strong HSB (5.1%), this is the only regular outlet in Hampshire for this lovely golden ale. Naturally, the Oak features in CAMRA's current Good Beer Guide.

There is a large beer garden, with a covered area for days of normal British weather. Vegetarians beware of the hog roasts that occur in the garden several times each summer. The pub's food is all prepared on the premises by chef Tony and assistant Martin. Table bookings are taken for all times except Sunday lunches when it is first come first served.

For the geographically minded, the Ordnance Survey location for the Oak is 286072. The 'phone is 023 8028 2350.

 

BEER FESTIVALS COMING UP Hop Press index

As the end-paper advertisements show (sorry, not in on-line version), the next Southampton Beer festival will soon be upon us - Thursday, Friday, and Saturday June 20th, 21st and 22nd. As usual it is at the Southampton Guildhall. This is our biggest annual event, there will be seventy to eighty cask-conditioned beers on offer plus ciders, perries, exotic foreign beers and bottle-conditioned British ales.

The beer list is just being decided so no details here, suffice to say that there will be .enough choice to satisfy every palate.

There has been some uncertainty about our Eastleigh festival - its venue, the Nightingale Centre, is likely to be 'redeveloped' (shades of the Old Town Hall's translation into The Point). However this now looks set to start in 2003. So, may be our last festival in Nightingale Avenue, should be on November 1st and 2nd.

Our neighbouring branch's popular Salisbury festival is June 13th to 15th this year.

Many pubs now do their own festivals, this has become a part of the (generally) summer scene. The Flower Pots, at Cheriton, will have theirs over the August Bank Holiday and the Royal Oak, at Fritham, will be having one a few weeks later in September.

 

NEW LABOUR OLD PINTS? Hop Press index

Section 43 of the Weights and Measures Act of 1985 deals with the dispense of beer and specifies that a pint of beer shall be a pint (20 fluid ounces) of liquid, with any head being an extra. That should have been that and by now we should already have been enjoying fair pints for nearly two decades. No such luck! In common with most Acts of Parliament many sections are set to come into force only when the relevant minister deems it suitable - unhappily, section 43 was just such a one. When the big brewers realised what the then Thatcher Government had done they brought all of their big guns in "the Beerage" to bear and needless to say section 43's implementation was blown out of the water! But it is still in the Act and CAMRA has been lobbying for its activation ever since.

The change of Government in 1997 not only gave us hope but we felt that we had a total guarantee as the Labour Party manifesto had called for activation of section 43. A Labour press release of 11th March 1997 said: "Drinkers will get what they pay for under Labour ... The move will see section 43 of the Weights and Measures Act re-enacted and will make oversized lined glasses mandatory." Immediately after the election, Nigel Griffiths, the new Competition and Consumers Minister said (18th June, 1997): "When the consumer asks for a pint, and is charged for a pint, that is the quantity he should be served." Sadly, but perhaps with jaundiced hindsight not very surprisingly, nothing happened in the 1997-2001 Parliament. Yet the pledge was there again in 2001. The Labour Party web site stated (until a few weeks ago) "We will also tighten legislation to ensure consumers are protected from small measures and get a full pint." The last five words were deleted in February.

Even as late as January 24th however, the Leader of the House, Robin Cook stated: "My Honourable friend raises a matter of great concern to the public and to many Members of the House. Any short measure is a clear public scandal and I assure my Honourable Friend that we will seek to bear down as hard as we can."

That would seem not to be very hard at all since within weeks the Trade Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, boldly announced to the House that she intended to introduce legislation to define a pint as being at least 95% of a pint! Such bizarre metrology may be worthy of a master satirist but not of a minister supposedly looking out for consumers rights. To rub salt into the wound the Government's spin doctors' press release dressed this up as a protection against short measure (above the legalised 5% that is...). Ms Hewitt is 'consulting' until July 1st so we urge all readers to write in protest and to call for the obvious: 1 Pint = 1 Pint.

We urge you to write to:

Trade Secretary, Patricia Hewitt
Department of Trade and Industry HQ
1 Victoria Street
London
SW1H 0ET

 

QUALITY, QUALITY Hop Press index

Steve Porter

Let's face it, real ale can be either the best drink in the world, or the worst. When it is served in tiptop condition nothing can beat it for taste and enjoyment. Keg and smooth nitrokeg beers can't come close. However, when a real ale is served in poor condition, it can be very bad! We've probably all been served beer with vinegary overtones or other unpleasant characteristics - when beer like this is served, you can see the attraction of a bland and unexciting nitrokeg.

Serving good real ale is not rocket science. All it takes is some basic knowledge, a little bit of practice and some work. So why are we so often served mediocre beer? Laziness? Lack of training? We all know the pubs that which consistently serve bad beer. Why do some brewers allow their own outlets to operate in this way, when they should be showcasing their products?

Temperature control is critical. Too cold and real ale loses all of its subtle and complex flavours (and becomes unpleasantly gassy). Too warm and it's just not a pleasant experience.

Too many pubs try to sell too many ales. Surely a pub selling just one cask beer in excellent condition is better than one selling fifteen beers, all in bad condition? Too many beers mean slow turnover on all of them and thus a deterioration in quality of all of them - an encyclopaedic selection of rubbish!

Thankfully the industry appears to be placing more importance on quality and a number of brewers are putting more effort into training and other initiatives such as improvements in cellar and pump cooling. In addition, Cask Marque has appeared on the scene. Cask Marque is an independent organisation, funded by its member pubs and breweries, whose aim is to taste cask ales in the pub and to award certificates of excellence where the trained tasters think applicable. The obvious drawback is that a pub is not considered unless it is willing to pay a fee - why should a pub that knows its beers are always superb bother to pay to tell the world?

Real ale will only prosper if quality improves. How many people try real ale as part of their introduction to the world of alcohol and are served a a poor pint, warm and cloudy? Thinking it is always like this, will they ever try it again? The great danger is of a vicious circle of bad beer putting people off drinking real ale. Less people drinking it, slower turnover and so worse beer!

Only beer in top quality condition will save real ale from the continual encroachments of bland kegs and nitrokegs, so beloved of the trade because they involve little work, little skill and have little waste (but for little customer pleasure).

 

SMALL BEERS Hop Press index

Horndean independent brewer, George Gale, has announced that Tony Marten has become its first managed house director. The job includes a seat on the main board of the company. Mr Marten has held similar positions at both Morlands and Marstons. Both these breweries have been taken over in recent years and their pubs in our area now sell Greene King products. Let us hope that Mr Marten doesn't achieve an unwanted hat trick!

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In the last Hop Press we noted the loss of Dorchester brewed beers in Eldridge Pope pubs and their replacement in most pubs by bland national brands such as Courage. The chief executive at the time, Peter Phillipson, has now left the company to become chief executive of Madame Tussauds. Attracting visitors by offering plastic replicas of the real thing - Mr Phillipson is ideally qualified for the post.

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Local micro-brewer, Triple fff of Four Marks, near Alton are moving ahead by leasing their own pub. The Shamrock, in Alton, opposite the station, was due to be turned into a Nepalese restaurant when the brewery stepped in and took the lease. They will change the name back to the original Railway Arms and as well as their own beers will feature those from other micro breweries, including a lager from Brighton's Dark Star brewery. The Budget changes could not have come at a more welcome time.

Oakleaf brewery, in Gosport, is launching a new beer, a 4.9% abv cask-conditioned lager under the strange name: I Can't Believe it's Not Bitter. Apart, perhaps, from being somewhat semantically challenged (if you really can't believe it's not bitter then why not buy bitter...?) can we predict the prompt arrival of an injunction from m'learned friends acting for a certain dairy products company?

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Bratrstvo Chmelové Šišky - Brotherhood of Hops is the Czech Republic's equivalent of CAMRA. One of our branch members, Mark Baverstock, is a frequent visitor to the Czech Republic and is a member of the B. o. H. Recently he met with members at their Annual General Meeting in the eastern city of Ostrava, the article "Can this be beer!?" above was written by the B. o. H. Chairman, Martin Jarošek, who now counts as our first foreign correspondent!

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Look out for Gales Jubilee Beers. The Horndean brewers are making two beers to celebrate the Queen's fiftieth jubilee. The first, in the pubs now, is bottle-conditioned, in ½ pint, corked bottles like the famous Prize Old Ale. It is a monstrous 12% abv, the strongest beer Gales have ever made, light in colour it is hopped with Goldings and Challenger and is quite attenuated. The other beer is cask, Jubilee Ale, 4.5% abv, light golden in colour, again hopped with Goldings for a modern citric finish. This beer will be in the pubs at the start of May and should run through until the end of June or longer if demand warrants it. Hopefully there will be some at the Southampton Beer Festival.

 

Letters iconLETTERS Hop Press index

Dear Sir,

I write in reference to your editorial in the previous edition (Oct 2001).

Your suggestion to boycott Eldridge Pope pubs really begs the question of what CAMRA's aims are now. Instead of having a go at pubs which do supply real ale, is it not about time you turned your attention to the fact that many pubs now don't have any real ale at all?

Now in ye olden days (about 20 years ago) people like me were going around giving stick to pubs that didn't sell it. A walk around the Shirley/Freemantle area is a prime example of the decline in available choice. Many of the watering-holes are taking out the hand-pumps, or not using them, because they have been persuaded that some smooth frothy stuff is less hassle to keep. The younger generation probably have not even tried real ale. So get off your high horse and start trying to persuade pub landlords to sell real ale.

So the next step is to try to persuade the young generation. I suggest that CAMRA tries to put on a Beer Festival at the University as a loss-leader exercise, otherwise the next generation of students will go to their nice 'nitro' pubs and ghettos, some of which we are not allowed into because we are not students.

So perhaps a leaflet campaign to persuade students to support their local pub and to intermingle with general society would benefit both communities.

Otherwise CAMRA will end up with boring old 40-something moaners like me of 'what it used to be like in the old days.'

Stuart Barnes
(Victor Meldrew Appreciation Society)
Bitterne, Southampton

 

PUB NEWS Hop Press index

Rob Whatley

A number of well-known Southampton pubs are undergoing changes of use. Local building firm, Drew Smith, has been converting a number of pubs for social housing. They include the Greyhound in the Kingsland area and Tudors in Coxford. They are also responsible for the nearly finished conversion of the Golden Hind in Eastleigh into flats. Other city pubs where permission has been sought for conversion to housing are the Marsh in Canute Road , the Royal Albert in Albert Road and the Oxford in St Marys Road. In a conversion of a different sort, plans are afoot for the former Swallow in Hinkler Road, which had been boarded up for a couple of years, to become a base for the 'New Deal for Communities' scheme in Thornhill.

A technical change of use was sought for the Square (previously the Square Balloon), to convert it from a pub to a nightclub, presumably in a bid to extend its opening hours. A former bar that has had a variety of guises has now become a curry house. Starting off as Muswells, the premises in Queensway was for a short time known as the Sports Café before becoming the music oriented Vertigo Café/Bar, the name under which it was boarded up in 1998. A less dramatic conversion for part of a pub may occur in Shirley. Permission is being sought to convert the skittle alley of the Henry Paget, in Anglesea Road, into bed and breakfast accommodation.

While the city is losing pubs, the opening of new licensed premises (which we may sometimes hesitate to describe by the word 'pub') looks set to continue. Pub group SFI (Surrey Free Inns) are seeking permission to open a Litten Tree at 5-7 The Portswood Centre, Portswood Road. Those of you who have visited the pub of the same name in Eastleigh will know what to expect. Meanwhile, Eldridge Pope are making a second attempt to open an outlet in the Above Bar area. They would like to open one of their Toad pub/restaurants in premises near to Yates. An application to open a similar establishment in Christchurch was refused after going to appeal last year.

We mentioned in the last Pub News that Butlers in London Road was closed for refurbishment. When it reopened it was under the name of Chambers Bar and Pizzaria. Another bar that reopened under a different name is the King Alfred in Northam Road. Pub News reporters were stunned to look into the former Victoria/Queen Vic/Glebe just a few days before the reopening to see the hand pumps displaying a range of Fuller's pump clips. Unfortunately the beer quality was poor on our first visit, we can only hope this will be quickly ironed out. More encouraging news reaches us from Bevois Valley, where the Guide Dog is offering an interesting selection of beers in its new guise as a free house.

Another pub that has undergone big changes is the Rydal in New Milton. We mentioned in the last Pub News that long standing landlady Gladys Walker had retired after spending 50 years serving customers. The pub has now been refurbished and has changed its name from the Rydal Hotel to the Rydal Arms. The dividing walls have been knocked down to form a single bar with fairly standard decor. It is still not clear if or when the long proposed new pub in Gore Road in the town will go ahead.

Another new pub in the Forest could appear on the Ampress site in Lymington. The outline planning application shows an area close to the entrance from the roundabout containing, "community retail, petrol station, pub". Staying in the town, the former Harpers in the Yacht Haven has been refurbished and reopened under the name of The Haven. While arriving at the Haven by boat is commonplace, such a mode of transport is not usually expected in Woodgreen in the far north west of the New Forest. Such an option has recently become more attractive as the bridge over the Avon that links the Horse and Groom pub and the rest of the village to the A338 has been missing for almost a year (carelessness...?). Latest estimates are that it will return to use any time now.

Another structure in need of repair but now past saving is the Flying Boat in Calshot. The appeal against the decision of planners to convert part of the derelict building to flats failed, so the future of the site remains uncertain.

Last year we mentioned that the Old Well restaurant in Copythorne had become the Old Well Inn. It has now had a more substantial change of name to become the St Jacques Restaurant and Bar. It is being run by Shirley and Peter Palmer, who were previously at the White Hart in Cadnam. Real Ales are now said to be available in the bar area. Another Forest pub under new management is the Waterloo Arms in Lyndhurst, where Sophie Davis and James Maloney are the new pint pullers. The pub is part of the New Forest Taverns group, which also runs the Star in Ringwood.

We look to be losing a number of pubs in the Winchester area. The big estate pub Chimneys on the Stockbridge Road at Weeke (formerly a Whitbread outlet) looks set for demolition to make way for flats. A considerable loss of amenity to a large number of households around it. At Owslebury, the Shearers, once a Good Beer Guide listed pub is said to be applying to be de-licensed. At a recent visit only one beer was available and the meals had been discontinued - a common precursor to making a case of non-viability. Nearby, in Colden Common, the Black Horse is also said to be applying to turn itself into housing. The Winchester planners turned down a similar application some time ago, but this time...

Finally, we bid farewell to Romsey's longest serving publicans. Barrie Cook arrived at the Old House at Home 31 years ago and was joined five years later by his partner Wendy Dayus. The couple eventually intend to mover to a smallholding in southern France but are first planning trips to America and Australia this autumn.

 

AT LAST, A RESULT! Hop Press index

On page nine we bemoan the Government's pusillanimous surrender to the lobby of the big brewers and pub chains on weights and measures legislation. On this page we give praise where it is due - the Budget announcement of the introduction of a sliding scale duty system for small brewers, for which we have been lobbying for many years, is wonderful news.

But, before detailing what the scheme involves, a word of warning - it does not mean cheap beer whilst watching the World Cup as Gordon Brown's cheer invoking speech in the House suggested!

The scheme starts on June 1st and is broadly similar to those that have been in operation in many other EU states for decades. It is as generous as EU law allows for really small breweries but its upper cut-off is somewhat lower than, for example, Germany.

The reduction in duty is 50% for any small brewery up to a production of 500,000 litres per year (equivalent to about 16,700 pints or 58 barrels per week). On a 4.5% beer this is a tax reduction of about 15p per pint. Above the 500,000 litre production level a lesser duty reduction is available up to a production level of 3 million litres per year. Beyond that the scales remain in place as now.

The proportion of duty payable, for the region between ½ million and 3 million litres annually, is given by a formula, in litres:

Annual production - 250,000
Annual production

Translated into our more familiar method of describing a brewery in terms of barrels per week this means that a 100 barrels/week brewery - a good sized 'micro' - will pay excise tax at a rate of 72% of the full amount and a big micro, at the 3 million litres per year (about 350 barrels/week) edge of the concession, will still have a useful duty reduction to 91.7%.

This is the graph resulting from the Customs and Excise formula: Beer Duty Graph

By applying this type of formula all of the brewers in the ½ million to 3 million area receive the same amount of actual cash rebate - about £120,000 per year, depending on the strength of the beers brewed. The real winners are the large pub breweries and small micros in the 30 to 60 barrels/week area, the rebate should make a considerable improvement to their stability.

What effects might we see in our pubs? As already said, do not expect a lot of cheap beer to suddenly appear. A huge proportion of our micro breweries are operating on a financial knife edge, constantly being pressured to offer unrealistic discounts to the pub companies that now control most of the nation's pubs. Passing on the rebate directly to these chains will not lower bar prices, only bolster their profits to make them even more aggressive in their negotiating.

That being said, some ability to offer sensible discounts should result in small brewers' beers appearing in more big chain outlets. The more that this happens, the more will customers expect to find them there and ask for them. A virtuous circle may evolve to open up the presently almost closed market.

Another use that one would like to see the money put to is the purchase of pubs by the small brewers. Owning a handful of their own pubs gives a brewer much greater stability - we can see the bad results that stemmed from the wholesale take-over of family brewers in the seventies and eighties that resulted in the Beer Orders and the destruction of Britain's unique, vertically integrated, tied house system. It needs rebuilding.

Local small brewers, when polled, had a variety of - mostly good - things to say about the Chancellor. Ringwood, successful enough now to be outside the sliding scale, were somewhat disappointed to miss out, especially as they were one of the very first lobbyists for this change, nearly twenty years ago. Oakleaf saw the rebate as offering the possibility of enabling them to progress from what might be called 'subsistence brewing' to a more business- like operation, perhaps with some paid help. Hampshire, whilst welcoming the move, thought that the small brewer's real problem still remained - the access to markets. It will be a cruel disappointment if the financially heavyweight pub companies attempt to use up all of the rebates just to squeeze the small fry. Cheriton, of Pots Ale and Village Elder fame, were very happy with their place on the scale and would hope to consolidate their local trade.

 

GOING PUBLIC (2) Hop Press index
Ash Mather

In the last Hop Press we encouraged readers to consider the advantages of public transport, especially the buses, in visiting our pubs; with a straightforward example of an excursion from Southampton into the New Forest. This time, a Saturday, going eastwards with an Explorer Ticket (£5.30) from Romsey.

Stagecoach 66 to Winchester, 12.15, arrive 13.05 and change onto X64 (Guildford) leaving at 13.10 arriving at Alresford (Swan) at 13.25.

Only time for a quick first pint, in the Bell say, (Itchen Valley and other beers), although there are also several other pubs available, before going a few yards down West Street to Jacklyn's Lane for the next stage:

Stagecoach 67 (Petersfield) at 14.05 to Old Cheriton, stopping at the Parish Hall at 14.12.

Alighting, continue down the street and turn right to come to the well-known Flower Pots Inn and Brewery. A chance to sample a couple of their beers before it is back to the Parish Hall for the next 67:

Stagecoach 67 at 15.12 to arrive in Petersfield Square at 15.46.

Petersfield has ten or more pubs but not all are open all day. The Square Brewery should be available for Gales beers. In any event there will be time for a couple more pints before 17.05 and then:

Stagecoach/Blue Line 52 from the Square to Bishop's Waltham Square 17.58.

To the Bunch of Grapes in St. Peter's Street, a pub unspoilt by progress other than the price of beer! A place to sit, chat and drink some Courage Best and then back to the Square for:

Stagecoach 69 at 1948 for a few minutes to Lower Upham at 1954.

The Woodman is on the other side of the road to the stop (the Alma Inn), a rare delight a real pub with real bars serving real beer really well. The beers are Greene King with a guest usually available. Plenty of time for several pints before :

Stagecoach 69, again from the Alma at 21.48, to Winchester 22.18.

Many choices of pub in Winchester, of course, but beware of lingering into drinking-up time and forgetting the last leg, which is:

Stagecoach 66, from the Station, at 23.09 (Friday/Saturday only) getting you back to Romsey in time to be indoors by midnight.

All of the services in this itinerary are detailed in the Solent Blue Line comprehensive timetable (30p). You can see that the Explorer Ticket allows of as complex a journey as most would wish for!

 

FREE HOUSE? FORGET IT!Hop Press index
Dave Etheridge

I've a problem with free houses - there are too many of them. Not a problem you say, but most are far from free.

CAMRA defines a free house as a pub whose licensee is able, at all times, to buy beverages from anywhere of choice without restriction, financial or otherwise. A simple concept in the days when there were just a few privately owned pubs in a sea of others tied to local breweries. The trouble started when these brewers started to offer loans, at seemingly good rates, to these private owners in exchange for a 'loan tie' agreement to sell so much of their beer. Although the beers on sale could normally give a good clue to a tie, it could just be that the 'free' owner just wanted an easy life.

Since the break-up of the tied house system things are much more complicated. Tens of thousands of pubs are now in the big blocks of the pub companies, Nomura, Punch and Enterprise each have around 5000 pubs - should these be considered free houses? Newly built chains like Weatherspoons, aiming for a thousand plus, describe themselves as free houses. Yet in all these cases the purchasing policy is centralised, licensees have no selection rights. Local small brewers have no chance of establishing any market.

My view is that the term free house has become devalued and can not easily be made meaningful again. One of the main problems is the rapid turnover of pub ownership these days, some of the pub owning companies are more property companies than public house operators. These companies acquire a block of pubs, do very little to them, keep them ticking over with a limited choice of beer, then sell them on in smaller blocks to reap their profit.

Consider the privately owned pub that is a true free house - the owner decides to add a small brew house to the back - does this remain a free house now it has its own tied brewery!? Yet the chain of ten thousand, which has a whole purchasing department at head office able to buy from anyone could be described as free even though they actually only deal with a handful of national brewers able to supply vast quantities at absurd discounts.

Whilst in Yorkshire a few weeks ago I passed a pub with a sign alongside the door that stated that the pub was an 'Enterprise Inns Free House.' Although I may disagree with the free house part, I was impressed that the sign stated who owned the pub.

What I would hope to see is the end of the term free house as it is no longer relevant. In its place I would like to see all pubs having to display their ownership details at the door along with the licensee details which are already required by law. I may be in the minority, but I do like to know which company I may be doing business with!

Hop Press issue number 51 – May 2002

Editor: Pat O'Neill
1 Surbiton Road
Eastleigh
Hants.
SO50 4HY
023 8064 2246
hop-press@shantscamra.org.uk

© CAMRA Ltd. 2002

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